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What is a Virtual Assistant?

October 14, 2008

When I tell people that I am a VA I tend to get one of three responses:

1.  “Oh, do you do websites and bookkeeping?”

No, that would require a web designer or bookkeeper.  I am a Virtual Assistant.

2. With head cocked to one side, looking at me as though there is a strange protrusion growing out of the center of my forehead.  Virtual Assistant?  What is that?

Invariably this person thinks that it is a side job or a hobby.  Something to bring in a little extra pin money (see my eyes rolling up in my head).

3.  Oh!  A Virtual Assistant!! Wow, that’s great, I don’t know what I would do without my VA

God I love these people! Only problems is they tend to have their own VAs and are not looking for another.  I give them my contact info and ask them to pass it on to friends that need a VA.

But what is a VA?  The traditional definition is that a Virtual Assistant, or VA is an administrative professional providing across the board administrative (and sometimes personal) services in long term, collaborative relationships. 

Simple right?  Well part of the problem is caused by folks in the corporate world expecting their administrative staff to be anything and everything, jumping on the hamster wheel, while being paid peanuts.  This mentality bleeds over into the Virtual Assistant world.  Clients bring this mentality to the table, and so do VAs that have not stepped out of the employee mindset.

On the other hand, there are many so called Virtual Assistant Industry Leaders that are leading the public, and VAs astray telling them that VAs should do all and be all.  That anything done virtually that can be considered providing assistance is Virtual Assistance.  Honestly, that is hogwash!

Virtual Assistance is it’s own industry with its own branding.  Do you call a librarian a bookkeeper?  After all, she does keep books.  And so do bookshop owners, boutiques, and publishers.  But we would never think to do that!  Why?  Because bookkeeping means ONE THING.  It is an industry in and of itself. 

Virtual Assistance is no different and the name should not be co-opted by folks doing other things.  Honestly, it’s not in their best interests and it only confuses the market.  If you happen to be a VA that also does bookkeeping and/or web design (or any of a myriad of other things that many toss under the VA umbrella) by all means advertise that you are a VA.  Then, separately advertise that you are a bookkeeper or web designer.  The latter often commands a higher price than Virtual Assistance, so why sell yourself short? 

Can you inform a bookkeeping client that you are also a VA, OF COURSE.  Can you create “Packages” that include these specialties in your VA offerings, again, yes!  But by treating them as separate and individual business offerings your marketing message is clear, you have a broader base, and people can find what they are truly looking for.

Using the Librarian analogy, how many of you would Google Bookkeeper to find a librarian?  Why do you expect potential clients to find a bookkeeper Googleing Virtual Assistance?  Let’s keep our message neat and clean so we stop confusing our market.